China’s Zhejiang, a big industrial province near Shanghai, is battling around a million new Covid-19 infections a day, the province’s government said on Sunday.
The number is expected to double in the days ahead, it added.
Zhejiang, one of China’s biggest and busiest manufacturing hubs, is home to a legion of small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are exporters. Factories in the province produce a range of goods, from batteries and clothing to textile dyes and plastics. Its city of Ningbo also ranks among the world’s five busiest container ports.
“The infection peak is estimated to arrive earlier in Zhejiang and to enter a period of elevated level around New Year’s Day, during which the daily new infection number will be up to two million,” the Zhejiang government said in a statement.
The province, with a population of 65.4 million, is among the few areas in China to estimate their recent spikes in infections including asymptomatic cases. Nationwide figures from the world’s second-largest economy had become incomplete as the National Health Commission stopped reporting asymptomatic infections.
‘Most dangerous weeks’
“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the pandemic,” analysts from Capital Economics said in a research note. “The authorities are making almost no efforts now to slow the spread of infections and, with the migration ahead of Lunar New Year getting started, any parts of the country not currently in a major Covid wave will be soon.”
The country’s healthcare system has been under enormous strain, with staff being asked to work while sick. Even retired medical workers in rural communities are being rehired to help grass-root efforts, according to state media.
Bolstering the urgency is the approach of the Lunar New Year in January, when huge numbers of people return home.
Citizens and experts, meanwhile, have called for more accurate data as China battles a record surge in Covid cases after abruptly dismantling its rigid zero-Covid regime.
The country reported no Covid deaths for the five days through Saturday, even as its health officials reportedly estimate that 18% of the population, or roughly 250 million residents, contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December. Officials fear at least 37 million of these caught the virus on Tuesday alone.
The World Health Organization has received no data from China on new Covid hospitalisations since Beijing eased its restrictions. The organisation says the data gap might be due to the authorities struggling to tally cases in the world’s most populous country.
Hong Kong to re-open China border
China, meanwhile, took another step towards loosening its pandemic-related restrictions on Saturday when Hong Kong’s leader announced it would aim to re-open its borders with the mainland by mid-January.
Speaking at a news conference upon returning from Beijing, Hong Kong Chief executive John Lee said authorities would aim to “gradually, orderly, and fully” re-open all entry points between the two sides, and coordinate with the government of nearby Shenzhen to manage the flow of people.
At present, individuals hoping to enter the mainland through Hong Kong can only do so through the city’s airport or two checkpoints – Shenzhen Bay or the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
Hong Kong and Beijing shut their borders in early 2020 as Covid first surfaced and they have remained closed since then, as China has capped inbound travellers as part of its strict pandemic containment measures.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena